Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire, others say in ice.” And now the world is dying, simultaneously freezing and burning. Everyone was right, and everyone was wrong. Climate change is producing incredible juxtapositions. As I write, the temperature is a record 80F, thirty degrees warmer than normal, forecast to drop to 40F tomorrow eve; and a hurricane is coming. The leaves are confused. Inside Starbucks, it’s already Christmas.
Daniel Bachman gives us a vision of a world we already know, once the stuff of science fiction, now the daily headlines, as prophesized by Martin Amis in London Fields. The seasons are switching places like the letters in Bachman’s name, now Almanac Behind, hinting at The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicts the next year of weather. Listening is like tuning in to the radio station of the apocalypse, which might be now. Dire warnings are beamed from short wave stations. Take shelter; the storm Is coming. Not a storm; the storm. Wind chimes and static bursts signal a change in the air. Bachman plays guitar, falling swiftly out of tune like the balance of the earth.
The drones and static grow, and Bachman keeps fiddling in the wind, like the child of Nero and Ecclesiastes. Where does one go to seek safe harbor if no harbor is safe? Parishioners gather in a church to sing hymns, to stave off the impending disaster. Local frogs begin to panic. The signals fall apart. The rain and hail begin to fall, like plagues on Egypt. Is there a hymn for this? The flood will follow, and some will remember God’s promise not to destroy the world in this way; but there are other ways, and other gods: the gods of commerce, the gods of industry, the gods who got us in this trouble in the first place, yet who promise no way out.
When there is a wildfire, people yearn for a flood; but when there is a flood, no one yearns for a fire. And yet, the fire arrives, sweeping across the sonic field ~ first electrical, then agricultural. Bachman samples Virginia firefighters and converts a photo of smoke into dangerous percussion. Emergency broadcasts continue to proliferate. We can’t go this way; it’s flooded. We can’t go that way; it’s burning. And we can’t stay here.
The contrast between Appalachian folk and short wave warnings, music of comfort and field recordings of distress, creates a frightening contrast. How long can society stay this calm? The recording falls into an “awful silence” before taking inventory, echoing the end of most disaster movies; the difference is that Bachman’s happy ending is purposely thin, the sonic version of a window that may already be closed. (Richard Allen)